POLITICS

Gun Control Debate Shifts Modestly After Newtown Shooting: Poll

12/20/2012 02:38 pm ET | Updated Dec 20, 2012

Opinions on gun control have moved only slightly since the Newtown, Conn., shooting last week, according to a Pew Research poll released Thursday, echoing the results of other polling conducted since the tragedy.

Intensity is high on both sides of the debate, with eight in 10 Americans saying they feel strongly on the issue. For the first time in Barack Obama's presidency, those strongly favoring gun control now outnumber those strongly favoring protection of gun ownership rights.

Overall, 49 percent of Americans said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 42 percent put an emphasis on gun rights, a six-point shift toward restrictions since July.

Underlying the contentiousness is some potential for compromise. Specific proposals to ban exploding bullets and high-capacity ammunition clips both receive a majority of support, a similar result to other polls that have found wide support for the latter idea.

But positive views of guns remain deeply entrenched, and a major overhaul of gun ownership would likely face substantial opposition. A third of Americans own guns, and Americans are 11 points more likely to say that gun ownership protects people from crime rather than that it puts people's safety at risk. Just over a third of people say the NRA has too much influence, a lower percentage than in 1993 or 2000.

Only 28 percent support banning handguns for all but the police, and although nearly two thirds of Americans say allowing citizens to own assault weapons makes the country more dangerous, fewer than half want to ban semi-automatic guns.

The poll was conducted entirely before Obama's press conference Wednesday, when he called for a task force to propose new guns restrictions, possibly motivating his supporters on the issue.

Neither party currently holds an edge on the issue, with voters evenly split as to whether Democrats or Republicans could do better on gun control. But opinions already divide sharply, and stably, across demographic lines. Democrats, women, blacks and Northeasterners widely favor gun control, while Republicans, men and whites lean toward preserving gun rights.

National support for gun control has declined in the past several decades, with events like the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 leading only to temporary bounces.

The Pew Research poll surveyed 1,219 adults between Dec. 17 and Dec. 19, with a 3.4 percent margin of error.

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